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Outcry at Steel’s cuts to weekend bus services to improve reliability

Ian Bushnell 16 August 2019 77

Rapids to stay but local routes to suffer in an adjusted timetable. The Government says recruiting more drivers is the answer. File photos.

The ACT Government’s move to put the brake on weekend bus services to improve their reliability has provoked a backlash from the other political parties and public transport advocates, who floated the possibility of private contractors.

The announcement comes after the Government faced increasing pressure over continuing weekend cancellations due to a lack of drivers, and after the Legislative Assembly called on it to address the issue and find better ways to notify passengers.

The Government has responded by announcing that a revised weekend timetable is to be introduced on Saturday 28 September at the end of the current school term, with local route buses running less frequently, up to every two hours.

Thursday’s Assembly resolution, after a Liberals motion was amended by the Government and the Greens, called on the Government to release an action plan within a month.

The Greens amendments also called on the Government to increase bus driver numbers through continued recruitment and consider incentives for drivers to work weekends.

Transport and City Services Minister Chris Steel said the new network had seen extra 1377 weekend services and 27 per cent more journeys on public transport on weekends compared to the same period last year.

But not enough drivers have been volunteering for weekend shifts to cover them and average weekend reliability has been at 89 per cent, which the Government admits is not acceptable.

While the Government has embarked on a recruitment campaign, specifically for part-time and casual drivers, to fill the gaps, it has now decided that it needs to cut services.

Mr Steel said network planners would work closely with the Transport Workers Union to agree on the new bus driver shifts, and services may be restored when more drivers came on board.

He said that rapid bus services would run at same frequency, services would still start early and run late and weekend services would still run on the same route and same number as the weekday services.

Transport Minister Chris Steel: services may be restored when more drivers came on board.

The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) said the Government’s response was not a sustainable long-term solution and the current driver EBA was not fit for purpose.

“It’s very disappointing that the Transport Canberra drivers still won’t volunteer to work weekends in sufficient numbers,” PTCBR Chair Damien Haas said.

“While driver recruitment could have been increased in the lead-up to Network 19, it still remains a fact that the voluntary aspect of weekend work is a 1970s workplace practice, and is no longer suitable for a seven day a week bus network.

“The composite hourly rate that drivers are paid, should ease a move to a shift system where adequate numbers of drivers can be allocated to bus services on a seven day a week basis.”

He said contracting private bus operators using MyWay readers may be the way forward.

“While the TWU would not like this option, the solution lies in their hands, and their willingness to adhere to the EBA they agreed to,” he said.

The PTCBR also wanted to see improved real-time data that would enable the various timetable apps, such as NXTBUS to be more reliable.

Mr Haas said the privately operated Canberra Metro light rail continued to operate seven days a week, and that light rail vehicle drivers appeared to be happy to work weekends.

Greens Transport spokesperson Caroline Le Couteur also said cutting weekend routes was not a real solution.

“It’s particularly concerning that with suburban routes cut, it appears that some people will have no bus service over the weekend,” she said.

Ms Le Couteur said the Government had not flagged any of these changes in the Assembly during debate on the issue.

“The other question is what is going to happen between now and 28 September? Will the unscheduled cancellations continue? Right now the Canberra public deserves certainty,” she said.

The Liberals transport spokesperson Candice Burch said the Government had admitted defeat and was incapable of delivering the weekend bus network that was promised.

“Mr Steel has also continuously refused to publish a list of cancelled services, instead instructing Canberrans check the NXTBUS app 90 minutes before their journey.

“Now, rather than fixing driver shortages, the Minister has decided to just cut the weekend services that Canberrans were promised,” she said. 

And with services being cut from 28 September, it is still not clear how the Minister will give passengers certainty that their bus will run over the next six weeks.” 

At Tuggeranong Bus Depot, Mr Steel welcomed eight bus drivers who graduated from their training on Friday (16 August), with 12 more having just started their training. Another 16 will start training in the coming weeks.

Mr Steel with the new recruits.

Mr Steel with the new graduates.


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77 Responses to
Outcry at Steel’s cuts to weekend bus services to improve reliability
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BlowMeDown 11:12 am 23 Aug 19

I attended a talk about 20 years ago by the consultant who was responsible for turning Sydney’s bus network around at that time. He wrote a report for the ACT government and his major dot point recommendations were:

1. Get rid of bus only corridors and express lanes because they’re a barrier to people who want to use the service.
2. Buses need to run frequently and consistently day and night seven days a week. Passengers should be able to just go to a stop and know there will be a bus arriving in a reasonable time.
3. Eliminate or minimize the need to make connections. The more connections there are to get from A to B the less reliable the service.

These are all about building confidence in the service to the point were people will want to use it.

10:33 am 20 Aug 19

Recruitment should have commenced before LR was constructed.

7:30 am 20 Aug 19

You can hear this stale, out-of-touch Labor government’s death rattle already.

maxblues 1:43 am 20 Aug 19

It’s time….for ANOTHER Transport Minister to resign!

9:46 pm 19 Aug 19

The lack of service that the ACT Government supplys to the ACT people is outrageous weather it's buses, hospital, health and schooling or any other essential services it's really no different to the poor service you get from some retail stores no different to the way storage king treats their customers with abuse and rudeness it seems to be the way business is conducted today. No one gives a Rats ass anymore.

6:12 am 19 Aug 19

Pretty simple really - recruit more drivers - right?

HiddenDragon 6:34 pm 18 Aug 19

Negotiating an EBA which folds weekend (and public holiday?) penalties into a commuted rate of pay, and then – “imagine our surprise” – discovering that there aren’t enough volunteers to do the work which used to attract penalty payments, sounds like a really good strategy for ratcheting up pay across-the-board.

So which Ministerial mastermind was in charge when this EBA was signed off on by the ACT Government?

    Ian 10:31 pm 19 Aug 19

    The composite rate and voluntary weekends have been around for 25 years or more.

gazmos 4:34 pm 18 Aug 19

Cutting services hasn’t worked. R6 on Sun 18 August hasn’t operated since 12.30pm. I met two elderly ladies waiting for that bus – one had been there 2 hours. A very kind TC operations manager took them to their destinations in a mini bus. Clearly the lack of drivers, no penalty rates and poor scheduling is turning the bus service on weekends into chaos. The people who are impacted are the elderly and disadvantaged who can’t afford Uber or Taxis. Very sad to see what was a good bus service deteriorate into chaos.

    Capital Retro 7:46 am 19 Aug 19

    How come the operations manager works at the weekend when there are no operations?

    JC 8:53 am 19 Aug 19

    They do get penalties but rolled into their base pay. Pay they get even if they refuse to do weekend work and only work 9-5 M-F. That’s where this whole thing is wrong.

    Fair enough some don’t want to work weekends in which case they should be on base pay.

    Also the reduced service weekend timetable hasn’t started.

8:11 pm 17 Aug 19

Not having sufficient staff to run the services you have scheduled after so many reviews & changes is a pretty basic failing by ACTIONs management. Seriously incompetent.

7:24 pm 17 Aug 19

But all those bus services were cut in gunghalin to force people onto the tram, so where are those resources?

5:19 pm 17 Aug 19

Use smaller buses

    8:51 am 19 Aug 19

    They still need drivers... that's the problem

    10:46 am 19 Aug 19

    Anya. But not BUS drivers if they use minivans.

    11:18 am 20 Aug 19

    Aah, Dory, I hadn't realised that would be a different license/training ... that would actually be a good idea. I've worked in East Timor and in the capital Dili that's exactly what the public transport system is. Minivans (mikrolets) that do fixed routes but can stop and pickup anywhere along those routes Can cram lots of people in, and only 25c anywhere. Microlets come every few minutes. So a developing country has better public transport than the national capital ... Canberra promises, Dili delivers!

    11:49 am 20 Aug 19

    Anya. Exactly!

1:43 pm 17 Aug 19

Anyone else noticed that Rattenbury, key promoter and voter of tram, the result of which the rest of Canberra is now suffering abysmal public transport, has been very quiet lately?

Capital Retro 8:23 am 17 Aug 19

It’s time to shut down ACTION weekend (non) services and get ride-share contractors in to do the job.

8:09 am 17 Aug 19

This at least gives me hope they can change the buses to fix the current problems. When I talked to my MLA and transport rep they said they can't make any changes to the network for another year as it is locked in.

But each month since the network change we have seen a change to school buses, an adjustment to Rapid timetables, extra buses for popular routes and now a change to weekend timetables. Time to bite the bullet and fix the other issues they created with the new Bus network.

7:30 am 17 Aug 19

Blame the drivers ... oh, wait, that’s not a solution, is it?

6:24 am 17 Aug 19

An inquiry into ACTION conditions of service for its staff is long overdue. For far too long it would appear the TWU calls the shots and the Labor Govt yield and we the public suffer with a very expensive, inefficient and ineffective public transport option.

    6:26 am 17 Aug 19

    Phil Andrews just don’t vote for act labor or act greens at the next election easy it’s only bad management on there part

    11:38 am 17 Aug 19

    Phil Andrews absolutely correct. What a mess why can’t we get buses right for a city of less than 500.000 people oh yes it’s called next stage of light rail! Stuff the buses and then say we need light rail to the time of $ 2 billion.!

1:16 am 17 Aug 19

Surely it would be better to pay drivers better penalties?

    7:32 am 17 Aug 19

    David Brown as I’ve said a few times the issue is the penalties for weekend work have been rolled into a composite rate that is paid for all hours worked. But there is no mechanism to make the drivers work the weekend shifts despite the composite rate factoring it into their pay. So paying extra is double paying.

    8:45 am 17 Aug 19

    Renegotiating the EBA will take many months though. Ours once took 18 months...

    10:47 am 17 Aug 19

    Federal public servants had to wait 3 years for a new EA under Abbott and turnbull

    1:38 pm 17 Aug 19

    Lin Van Oevelen I suspect that with good Will on both sides an addendum could be made within a better response time.

    1:39 pm 17 Aug 19

    Alex Thomson But that was without good Will on both sides.

    1:54 pm 17 Aug 19

    As Mr Haas suggests, the Government could take the matter to the Fairwork Commission and seek to revert to the award, or some other arrangements because the EBA clearly does not work. Other employers have done that recently.

    4:04 pm 17 Aug 19

    Bill Gemmell hahaha🤣🤣🤣 come on the ALP take on the Unions. FFS get real, if unions said jump the ALP asks permission to come down

    4:06 pm 17 Aug 19

    David Brown they have a choice, redo the EBA which put all penalties into their salary by removing them from their salary, and reintroducing them as penalties.

    4:22 pm 17 Aug 19

    Peter Major and the liberals are silent on this point.

    5:54 pm 17 Aug 19

    Bill Gemmell why shoot yourself in the foot when the other dipshits are doing it for you.

    Remember the ALP and the Greens have taken the ACT from a lovely city to its current state of despair.

    6:27 pm 17 Aug 19

    Peter Major my first task as Chief Minstrel would be to call in the liquidators because the joint is insolvent

    9:13 am 18 Aug 19

    David Brown, there is clearly no goodwill on the TWU side

    12:58 pm 18 Aug 19

    Alex Thomson And you know this because?

    2:36 pm 19 Aug 19

    Absolutely agree, the TWU have the local Rattenbury government by the goolies.

12:01 am 17 Aug 19

Well weekend rates were cut so seems like a win win for those with tight purse strings in mind 🤔

    7:29 am 17 Aug 19

    TatStan Rodoney weekend rates were cut for hospitality workers. The drivers don’t get penalties but that is because they get paid a higher composite rate. Which is common with shift workers.

    12:12 pm 17 Aug 19

    TatStan Rodoney weekend rates weren’t cut at all.

    1:11 pm 17 Aug 19

    Who's taking the bus to work on weekends? Retail workers who can't get a bus ride to work and their wages are cut.

11:33 pm 16 Aug 19

Barr humbug Vote him out or get use to crappy transport

Ian 9:58 pm 16 Aug 19

You’d have thought they might have considered the staffing issues during the planning of the weekend services in the original timetable. Looks like they charged ahead adding services and hoped for the best.

    JC 8:54 am 19 Aug 19

    They did. They have wanted a single route structure and more weekend buses for years now and this was always the reason that stopped them.

    Ian 10:29 pm 19 Aug 19

    So they’ve gone ahead and added weekend bus services without having solved the issue of staffing them properly. That looks to me liking charging ahead and hoping for the best.

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